BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hard-won security gains in Somalia could be undermined unless the rest of the world steps up support to improve Somalis' lives, the United Nations' special representative for the country said on Wednesday.
In the struggle against al Shabaab militants in Somalia, the Somali army and African Union forces have seized control of 10 or 11 towns from the Islamists in the last few months, Nicholas Kay told Reuters in an interview during a visit to Brussels for talks with European Union officials.
"But unless we can consolidate those gains, unless the people in those areas feel the benefit of being in a government-controlled area, they get better services, better governance and also their basic needs for food and medicines are met, unless we can do that, then there is a risk that this will not be a success," he said.
Kay, a British diplomat, voiced concern that Somalia was losing out on attention and resources to other crisis-hit countries such as South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Ukraine.
He said funding for humanitarian work in Somalia had "dropped off a cliff" even though a top U.N. official had warned of "worrying parallels" between now and 2010 - the year before a famine which killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Somalia was entering a critical phase and it was far too soon to reduce the international effort to help it, Kay said. "Reducing it now could have severe humanitarian and security consequences in the region," he added.
THREAT TO SECURITY
International donors promised 1.8 billion euros ($2.5 billion) in reconstruction aid for Somalia at a Brussels conference last September. The 28-nation European Union, already the largest donor to the country in the Horn of Africa, led the financial pledges, committing 650 million euros.
Even so, Kay said there was around a $750 million funding gap for humanitarian work in Somalia this year.
Neighboring Kenya has suffered a series of gun and grenade attacks in recent months blamed on al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab or its sympathizers, raising concern about spreading violence.
Kay said al Shabaab had had "a regional intent and capability" for some time but the regional focus was "probably becoming even more pronounced now as they are under pressure in Somalia".
"It poses a significant threat to security," he said. "This is an organization with an agenda that is beyond just Somalia."
Kay also said that the rest of the world needed to do more to train Somalia's army to take control of security there.
African Union forces may start to leave Somalia after elections scheduled in 2016 but that depends on Somalia having credible security forces in place and Kay said he was concerned not enough progress was being made towards meeting that goal.
"If we don't increase our effort on that, we shan't do it," he said.
The EU and a number of other countries are helping to train Somali security forces.($1 = 0.7345 Euros)
(Editing by Ruth Pitchford)